European Journal of Ageing

, Volume 11, Issue 2, pp 109–119 | Cite as

Self-esteem across adulthood: the role of resources

  • Jenny Wagner
  • Frieder R. Lang
  • Franz J. Neyer
  • Gert G. Wagner
Original Investigation


It is still not well understood how and why developmental trajectories of self-esteem change, particularly in late life. We investigated the role of resources for self-esteem change across adulthood. In detail, we explored between-person differences in self-esteem levels and change in relation to resources with participants who ranged in age from 17 to 100 years. Study 1 consisted of a cross-sectional representative German sample of 12,609 participants, where we observed few age differences in mean levels of self-esteem across adulthood. Being married or in a relationship and positive subjective health were associated with higher levels of self-esteem. In addition, relations of resources of subjective health as well as neuroticism with self-esteem appeared to be smaller in late compared to young adulthood. Longitudinal studies including young (N = 338) and older adults (N = 325) indicated both reasonably high stability regarding rank-order and mean levels of self-esteem across 4 and 8 years. Again, age-differential resources appeared to be important for higher levels of self-esteem with education being related to self-esteem in young adults and subjective health in late life. However, no resource was associated with changes in self-esteem in either young or late adulthood. Overall, findings suggest that self-esteem levels are reflective of age-specific constraints and risks.


Self-esteem Resources Adulthood Old age Cross-sectional data Longitudinal data 


  1. Baltes PB (1987) Theoretical propositions of life-span developmental psychology: on the dynamics between growth and decline. Dev Psychol 23(5):611–626CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Baltes PB, Baltes MM (1990) Psychological perspectives on successful aging: the model of selective optimization with compensation. In: Baltes PB, Baltes MM (eds) Successful aging: perspectives from the behavioral sciences. Cambridge University Press, New York, pp 1–34Google Scholar
  3. Baltes MM, Lang FR (1997) Everyday functioning and successful aging: the impact of resources. Psychol Aging 12(3):433–443CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bollen KA, Curran PJ (2006) Latent curve models. A structural equation perspective. Wiley series in probability and statistics. Wiley, HobokenGoogle Scholar
  5. Borkenau P, Ostendorf F (1991) Ein Fragebogen zur Erfassung fünf robuster Persönlichkeitsfaktoren. Diagnostica 37:29–41Google Scholar
  6. Brandtstädter J (2007) Das flexible Selbst [The flexible self]. Elsevier GmbH, MünchenGoogle Scholar
  7. Brandtstädter J, Greve W (1994) The aging self: stabilizing and protective processes. Dev Rev 14(1):52–80CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Crocker J (2011) Presidential address: self-image and compassionate goals and construction of the social self: implications for social and personality psychology. Pers Soc Psychol Rev 15(4):394–407. doi: 10.1177/108886831141874 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Cumming G, Finch S (2005) Inference by eye confidence intervals and how to read pictures of data. Am Psychol 60(2):170–180. doi: 10.1037/0003-066x.60.2.170 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Curran PJ, Bauer DJ (2011) The disaggregation of within-person and between-person effects in longitudinal models of change. Annu Rev Psychol 62(1):583–619. doi: 10.1146/annurev.psych.093008.100356 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Diehr P, Williamsone J, Burkee GL, Psaty BM (2002) The aging and dying processes and the health of older adults. J Clin Epidemiol 55(3):269–278CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Gerstorf D, Ram N, Lindenberger U, Smith J (2013) Age and time-to-death trajectories of change in indicators of cognitive, sensory, physical, health, social, and self-related functions. Dev Psychol. doi: 10.1037/a0031340 Google Scholar
  13. Huang C (2010) Mean-level change in self-esteem from childhood through adulthood: meta-analysis of longitudinal studies. Rev Gen Psychol 14(3):251–260CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Jopp D, Rott C, Oswald F (2008) Valuation of life in old and very old age: the role of sociodemographic, social, and health resources for positive adaptation. Gerontologist 48(5):646–658CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Kuster F, Orth U, Meier LL (2013) High self-esteem prospectively predicts better work conditions and outcomes. Soc Psychol Pers Sci. doi: 10.1177/1948550613479806 Google Scholar
  16. Lang FR, John D, Lüdtke O, Schupp J, Wagner GG (2011) Short assessment of the big five: robust across survey methods except telephone interviewing. Behav Res Methods 43(2):548–567CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Lehnart J, Neyer FJ, Eccles J (2010) Long-term effects of social investment: the case of partnering in young adulthood. J Pers 78(2):639–669. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-6494.2010.00629.x CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Lucas RE, Donnellan MB (2011) Personality development across the life span: longitudinal analyses with a national sample from Germany. J Pers Soc Psychol 101(4):847–861. doi: 10.1037/a0024298 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Marsh HW, O’Neill R (1984) Self description questionnaire III: the construct validity of multidimensional self-concept ratings by late adolescents. J Educ Meas 21(2):153–174CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Marsh HW, Hau K-T, Grayson D (2005) Goodness of fit in structural equation models. In: Maydeu-Olivares A, McArdle JJ (eds) Contemporary psychometrics: a festschrift for Roderick P. McDonald. Multivariate applications book series. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Publishers, Mahwah, NJ, pp 275–340Google Scholar
  21. Marsh HW, Martin AJ, Jackson S (2010) Introducing a short version of the physical self description questionnaire: new strategies, short-form evaluative criteria, and applications of factor analyses. J Sport Exerc Psychol 32(4):438–482Google Scholar
  22. Muthén LK, Muthén BO (1998-2010) Mplus user’s guide, 6th edn. Muthén & Muthén, Los AngelesGoogle Scholar
  23. Neyer FJ (2002) Twin relationships in old age: a developmental perspective. J Soc Pers Relationsh 19(2):155–177CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Neyer FJ, Lehnart J (2007) Relationships matter in personality development: evidence from an 8-year longitudinal study across young adulthood. J Pers 75(3):535–568CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Orth U, Trzesniewski KH, Robins RW (2010) Self-esteem development from young adulthood to old age: a cohort-sequential longitudinal study. J Pers Soc Psychol 98(4):645–658. doi: 10.1037/a0018769 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Orth U, Robins RW, Widaman KF (2011) Life-span development of self-esteem and its effects on important life outcomes. J Pers Soc Psychol. doi: 10.1037/a0025558
  27. Preacher KJ, Wichman AL, MacCallum RC, Briggs NE (2008) Latent growth curve modeling. Series: quantitative applications in the social sciences, vol 157. Sage, Los AngelesGoogle Scholar
  28. Pullmann H, Allik J, Realo A (2009) Global self-esteem across the life span: a cross-sectional comparison between representative and self-selected internet samples. Exp Aging Res 35(1):20–44CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Raudenbush SW, Bryk AS (2002) Hierarchical linear models. Applications and data analysis methods. Sage, Thousand OaksGoogle Scholar
  30. Roberts BW, Robins RW (2004) Person-environment fit and its implications for personality development: a longitudinal study. J Pers 72(1):89–110CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Robins RW, Tracy JL, Trzesniewski K, Potter J, Gosling SD (2001) Personality correlates of self-esteem. J Res Pers 35(4):463–482. doi: 10.1006/jrpe 2001.2324CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Robins RW, Trzesniewski KH, Tracy JL, Gosling SD, Potter J (2002) Global self-esteem across the life span. Psychol Aging 17(3):423–434CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Roth M, Decker O, Herzberg PY, Brähler E (2008) Dimensionality and norms of the Rosenberg self-esteem scale in a German general population sample. Eur J Psychol Assess 24(3):190–197CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Sayer AG, Cumsille PE (2001) Second-order latent growth models. In: Collins LM, Sayer AG (eds) New methods for the analysis of change. American Psychological Association, Washington DC, pp 179–200Google Scholar
  35. Schieman S, Campbell JE (2001) Age variations in personal agency and self-esteem: the context of physical disability. J Aging Health 13(2):155–185CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Sedikides C, Gaertner L, Toguchi Y (2003) Pancultural self-enhancement. J Pers Soc Psychol 84(1):60–79CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Shanahan MJ, Hill PL, Roberts BW, Eccles J, Friedman HS (in press) Conscientiousness, health, and aging: the life course of personality model. Dev Psychol Google Scholar
  38. Shaw BA, Liang J, Krause N (2010) Age and race differences in the trajectories of self-esteem. Psychol Aging 25(1):84–94CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Sowislo JF, Orth U (2012) Does low self-esteem predict depression and anxiety? A meta-analysis of longitudinal studies. Psychol Bull 95(3):695–708Google Scholar
  40. Staudinger UM (2000) Viele Gründe sprechen dagegen, und trotzdem geht es vielen Menschen gut: Das Paradox des subjektiven Wohlbefindens [Many reasons speak against it, yet many people feel good: The paradox of subjective well-being]. Psychologische Rundschau 51(4):185–197CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Swann WB, Jr, Chang-Schneider C, Larsen McClarty K (2007) Do people’s self-views matter? Self-concept and self-esteem in everyday life. Am Psychol 62(2):84–94Google Scholar
  42. Wagner GG, Frick JR, Schupp J (2007) The German Socio-Economic Panel Study (SOEP)—scope, evolution and enhancements. Schmollers Jahrbuch 127(1):139–169Google Scholar
  43. Wagner J, Gerstorf D, Hoppman C, Luszcz M (2013a) The nature and correlates of self-esteem trajectories in late life. J Pers Soc Psychol 105(1):139–153CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Wagner J, Lüdtke O, Jonkmann K, Trautwein U (2013b) Cherish yourself: longitudinal patterns and conditions of self-esteem change in the transition to young adulthood. J Pers Soc Psychol 104(1):148–163CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Wasylkiw L, Fabrigar LR, Rainboth S, Reid A, Steen C (2010) Neuroticism and the architecture of the self: exploring neuroticism as a moderator of the impact of ideal self-discrepancies on emotion. J Pers 78(2):471–492CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jenny Wagner
    • 1
  • Frieder R. Lang
    • 2
    • 3
  • Franz J. Neyer
    • 4
  • Gert G. Wagner
    • 3
    • 5
    • 6
  1. 1.Psychological Research MethodsHumboldt-University of BerlinBerlinGermany
  2. 2.Friedrich-Alexander-UniversityErlangen-NurembergGermany
  3. 3.German Institute for Economic Research (DIW Berlin)BerlinGermany
  4. 4.Friedrich-Schiller University of JenaJenaGermany
  5. 5.Berlin University of TechnologyBerlinGermany
  6. 6.Max Plank Institute of Human DevelopmentBerlinGermany

Personalised recommendations